Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 jet — dubbed “Cosmic Girl” — took off Monday from Newquay in England’s Cornwall county, 245 miles west of London, in a first launch for the country from UK soil. But nearly two hours after the plane left the ground, Virgin Orbit revealed the launch was a failure.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit on Monday said its rocket experienced an “anomaly” while flying to orbit, preventing the UK from succeeding in its historical space mission to deliver a payload of nine satellites to orbit.
The “Start Me Up” satellite mission was scheduled for Monday from Spaceport Cornwall at Cornwall Airport Newquay in southern England.
Back in Cornwall spectators did a “conga” dance around a replica of the rocket at the perimeter of the spaceport while up to 75,000 people watched a livestream of the flight.
When the “go” call came at 11.10pm, LauncherOne was released at 10,700 metres (35,000ft), falling for a few seconds before igniting and shooting southwards, gathering speed and altitude as it headed towards the Canary Islands.
Cosmic Girl banked sharply away, a stomach-turning manoeuvre. The spectators in Cornwall watching via a big screen whooped and the plane headed back towards the UK.
LauncherOne did what is known as a “barbecue roll” to make sure neither side got too hot. The satellites, none bigger than a washing machine, weredue to be released from LauncherOne around an hour later.
But then came the bad news that the rocket had not reached the required orbit. It is believed that the rocket and satellites are all lost.